Posts Tagged ‘Tel Aviv’

Has it really been close to 3 months since I last wrote a blog post?!?!?! Wow, I’m sorry to you (readers) and to myself. As much as this is a help guide to wanna-be lone soldiers, it’s also a chronicle for myself and others about what life is like in the IDF. I update a lot on Facebook (which if you’re a fan, you know is quite a bit), but I also should have been updating more here as well. With blog posts I can go more in detail and make sure my memories aren’t lost!

I’ve been back in Israel and on base for 2 weeks and already a ton has happened (or not happened). I’m home at my kibbutz now alone because my girlfriend was lucky enough to be selected to be a soldier on a Taglit (Birthright) trip. She’s traveling all around Israel for 10 days with a bunch of 20 somethings from the Philadelphia area, being their companion and guide through this holy land. She helps them with their questions and introduces them to Israeli idea’s and things they probably wouldn’t see or hear otherwise, along with answering the dumb question here or there of “HAVE YOU EVER SHOT ANYONE?!?!?!?!”. Contrary to popular belief, no, we soldiers in the IDF do not just walk around shooting people for the fun of it.

So now, where was I before I was sitting at my new computer eating strawberries from the shuk (market) in Tel Aviv? Where was I before two weeks of guard duty on the border of the West Bank? Why I was at home of course! Home in beautiful New York eating lox and cream cheese bagels, amaaaaaazing pizza and having the “occasional” beer or 10.

they're just as good as they look 🙂

Home was great. Really, I couldn’t have asked for much more. I saw my family and friends, I caught up on sleep, rode my motorcycle a few times, I ate A LOT, partied a bit too much and generally just did all the things I can’t or don’t have time to do here in Israel. There’s not much to explain about being home, you can’t explain the feeling of returning to a place that you’ve known for 23 years after a year of being gone. It’s just that, returning home. Most things are comfortably the same, with a few changes of the local stores. It’s nice that most things don’t change. It’s reassuring that there are things that don’t change every day. Keeps me sane at least.

Returning to Israel a couple days later than I was supposed to due to a screw up on the army’s behalf was a pretty good bonus for once. Apparently they were beginning to think that I had run away, until I showed up and explained what had happened with my plane tickets. Long story short the army sent me to get my plane tickets the day before I was supposed to leave, so obviously there weren’t any tickets left, so the travel agent just added the lost days onto the end. Returning was bittersweet. I liked that I would have something to occupy my time with again, but I missed home the second I was on the plane. It was hard knowing that the next time I would be home would be a minimum of another 6 months or so. All is well now though, I’ve come to peace with finishing up here and doing my duty that I have signed up for. June 15th is the day I’m done, unless they give me some really good reason to sign extra time? an interesting course or something maybe?

For those of you out of the loop, since finishing my training at my original base I’ve been stationed between the Israeli settlement of Tsofim and the Arab city of Qalqilya, Check out the area here on a map. We do various different forms of guard duty there. I can’t go very in depth here, but it ranges from guard duty on base, to patrols and lookout towers on the border of Israel and Qalqiliya which is part of the West Bank. It’s very tiring work and after being on base for 2 weeks all anyone wants to do is go home and sleep. Some shifts go up to 12 hours… and in one location you sleep there for several days on end, taking turns guarding with the other people there. No showers, no change of clothes, and you make your own food there!

Next week I’ll be moving bases again… but that’s for next blog. For now, I will give you a short photo essay to sum up my last month or so. I wish I could post more, but remembering our chats during training – I probably shouldn’t post some pictures that I have in case they got in the wrong hands, and that’s weird that I actually think like that now.

I got to see tons of family including my niece (Helen) and nephew (Sam, pictured here). It was great to see them after such a long time. I think Sam liked my motorcycle as much as I do! P.S. Don't worry mom's around the world, this motorcycle was never moving with him on it!

how I missed unkosher deli sandwiches. sorry but I don't think I can ever give it up!

My grandparents had their 64th anniversary while I was home!

Ben Gurion Airport... Returning to the land.

We built our own army Chanukiah for Chanukah!!! What do you think?

Thought it was a cool looking view while I was guarding...

I know this sorta looks like a Hess truck from the holidays, but it's a real truck the police and soon the army will use here! It's a Ford that's been heavily customized by an Israeli company!

SUFGANIOT!!!! Our Battalion commanders father was kind enough to buy/donate a ton of donuts for all of us during Chanukah... WOW they were good!

Another view from guard duty. Barbed wire isn't always the nicest thing to see, but it's unfortunately needed in a lot of area's around the border. I liked the contrast with the natural surroundings for this picture

A checkpoint near a border to check ID's of Israeli's and Palestinians alike crossing the border. A public area so I felt it ok to show. Many people cross this border every day to go to one side or the other to work.

I recently got an upgrade from my old Vietnam era M16, to a much nicer M4! Very happy about it. Now I fit in with everyone else 🙂

If you made it to here, Thanks for reading, thanks for looking at my pictures and if you’re a regular, sorry for the long wait for a new post! I hope to post more frequently now that I have my own (new) laptop, and have gotten a little more back into a regular schedule. Hope you’ve enjoyed and make sure to like and share my facebook page, that’s where the most frequent updates are! Till next time, enjoy!

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Last week I thought I’d be staying this weekend at base, but apparently that’s not until next month, so you do get an update!

I can hardly believe it but it’s been a month already, one down and at least 17 to go. The time has been flying by spectacularly fast for me. Every day lasts around 18 hours and we’re constantly doing something throughout that time so I don’t have much time to contemplate what’s been going on around me. Weekends are for contemplation, seeing friends and doing a lot of NOTHING. Nothing feels like such an amazing thing to do after a week in the army.

This week was a pretty short one at that; if you read my last update you know that I had off on Sunday – which already made for one less day in the week. On top of that we had our “Tekas” (Ceremony) this week for our swearing in. Basically we swore our allegiance to Israel and the IDF. The ceremony took place at a historic jail in Acco that is now a museum. It was a pretty nice place, and we got to go on a short tour of the museum while we were there which was an enjoyable change of pace.At the ceremony we received our first tag for our uniform. It looks pretty cool, but in the grand scheme of the army, we look like total n00bs. The tag means we’re tied to the part of the army dealing with education. Great! I came to the army to get away from college and normal life and now I’m in the equivalent of kindergarten!

We started our Hebrew courses this week and I’m a little disappointing so far. As for now I’m a bit above what they’re teaching, but I guess review is good. Myself and two of the other guys in my unit complained to our Hebrew teacher because we are, and she knows, much higher in our Hebrew knowledge than the rest of the class. She said she would give us extra work to do, and she has already. It’s nice that she’s trying to help, but at the same time I still wish I was in my old unit being taught a higher level of Hebrew. Instead of being taught more I’m just working harder to learn more…

Like I said the week was pretty short and generally uneventful. Same old sprinting and push up punishments because of the jackasses in my unit constantly screwing up. Myself and two others got out of half of the punishment since as our mefakedit (commander) said, we didn’t do any of it. We tried to make her let us stay, since as everyone knows, you’re unit is supposed to act as one in the army…She wouldn’t have any of it. After a bit of arguing she threatened us with court, so that was the time to give up. We got out of punishments, but at the same time I still feel like we just looked like suck-ups to the commander. As I say over and over again: It’s pledging a fraternity; hazing, pledge-masters and all. Since there wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary going on during the week I struggled to plan my weekend instead of really paying attention to what we were doing.

I found out through the week that some friends from home would be on a birthright trip in Jerusalem so I wanted to try to go see them. My predicament was that I was also trying to visit Haifa again… It came down to the age old problem of friends vs. girl. I tried my hardest to go to Jerusalem and back to Haifa, but both my body and the rules of Shabbat in Israel said no. My body was screaming in agony for me to go to sleep and it being Shabbat meant that all the public transportation stops at around 4pm.

market in Jerusalem

I swear this is going to be the quickest rundown of Friday that I can do, and it’s still going to be long: Wake up at 4am, do some pushups and clean the barracks. pack my bag and get on a bus to the Acco train station at 6AM. Watch a train pull away from the station at 6:30 as I’m getting my ticket. Wait until the next train at 7. Get to Tel Aviv at around 8:45. Hop on a bus to Jerusalem, get there at around 9:45. Find my friend/Hillel director’s cousin’s apartment. It’s now around 11 AM by the time I meet him. Go on a hike?!?!?! yea, we went on a hike. After the hike we went to the market near King George street to get lunch with the other people I know from college. On the walk over to the market I heard my named yelled out randomly… I ran into a friend from high school! He was on a Birthright trip, how crazy! I hadn’t seen him in 5-6 years and now he recognized me on the street in Jerusalem in an army uniform with a shaved head!?!? That was amazing. After that interesting experience we continued on to the market and ate some awesome Iraqi food. yum! I had a coca-cola, it was duhhhhlicious. We walked around the market a little bit and eventually headed back to the apartment, got in the car and went back to the “Tachana Merkazit” (Central Bus station) I caught the second to last bus at 3:45 PM back to Tel Aviv. PHEW!

Now the problem is that I don’t actually live in Tel Aviv… lucky for me my adopted parents called and said that they were randomly going to be in Tel Aviv that night to see some friends – talk about good timing! I decided to walk to my old hostel, HaYarkon 48, since it’s the one place that I know people in Tel Aviv. On my way there I stumbled upon some ridiculous open air market that seemed like it was China Town in NYC… but it wasn’t just Asians, there were also lots of Ethiopians? The one thing I needed to get this weekend was shoe polish for my boots (they’ve been getting pretty scuffed lately). Every other person in this open air flea market was selling polish, but all black – not the reddish brown that I need. I finally stumbled upon a real shoe store and went in to talk to the guy. He said he didn’t have any polish. It was a mixture of English and Hebrew as I got to talking to him, and he was very interested in my story. He told me to wait a minute and he shuffled through a messy drawer he had and eventually found a little container of polish (brand new). I asked him how much it was and he responded that for me, with all that I was doing, it was free and on him. He told me “Kol Hakavod” and “B’Hatzlecha” (All the Respect and Good Luck). I walked out after thanking him with a big smile on my face. I love the generosity that Israeli’s have. They may be pushy and hard asses here and there, but they assuredly take care of their own. It might sound dumb but this one guy and his small gift of shoe polish really made me feel welcome and a part of Israel.

I started walking in the direction of the hostel and randomly started talking to a couple of guys I heard speaking English on the street.  One was German and the other French, both studying at universities in Israel. Interesting the people you meet… I made it back to the hostel and was able to say “Hi” to some of the employee’s there that I had befriended during my stay there. It was nice to be able to see them again. I wanted to stay the night, but I didn’t have any civilian clothes, so I wouldn’t have been able to go out anyways. Eventually I met up with my adopted parents and had dinner with them at their friend’s house. Exhausted after dinner, we drove back to the kibbutz as I slept the whole way. I never made it to Haifa… hopefully next week?

Today (Saturday) has been a nice day of relaxation, naps and nothing. I enjoyed it immensely. The End.

I know I haven’t posted a full blog update since two weekends ago, but let’s be serious here, I work on about 5 hours of sleep a night. I need to catch up on sleep during the weekends, not write a blog. That being said, If you haven’t already, become a fan on Facebook – DO IT! There are much more frequent updates there since I can send updates from my phone during the week! Also, check out photo’s from throughout the week at my Flickr Page, it’s updated every time I get some wifi access.

I’m going to try to quickly summarize last week since it wasn’t all that much different from the first week with a few big exceptions. I got switched to a different tzevet (unit) at the beginning of the week. I felt terrible about it at first and was in a REALLY bad mood the first couple days. I’m still not happy about it but I’m dealing with it – mainly because I’ve already argued a lot with the higher ups and don’t think they’ll switch me back. assholes.

I wouldn’t have minded the switch so much if they had switched me to another good unit. The unit they switched me to though has a horrible mefakedit (commander) and some of the guys are pure jackasses. One of the Russian’s in the tzevet is currently in jail for the week because he doesn’t listen to ANYTHING that they tell him. He clearly doesn’t want to be there, and he makes it very known. Another of the children (and that’s what he is, a child) in the group is named Tal. I would hate Tal even more than Euvgeny (the Russian) but he’s just too dumb to know any better. He clearly either has something wrong with him or he was just dropped on his head as a baby a few too many times…

I remember writing in a previous post that my original tzevet (tzevet tesha) wasn’t that great, but they seem like pure gold compared to this one. I still haven’t fully decided whether to join in the buffoonery or just to be better than them – right now I’m doing a little of both. I’ve sorta joined the ranks of two other kids in Tzevet Chamesh (unit 5), Yaakov and David.

David and Yaakov both know a bit more Hebrew than I do and I don’t understand why they’re in this unit either. We’ve come to the conclusion that they placed us here to “babysit” the others (my adopted dad suggested the same). We yell at the others to do things so that we don’t get in trouble. If one person is late, we’re all doing push-ups. As much as I like exercise, I really don’t appreciate being punished for what someone else screwed up. I’ve begun to drag Tal around, sometimes physically pulling and pushing. He really is just a dumb oaf, he acts like he’s 4, so I treat him as such.

The one high point of the week was when we had “sport time”. We had some competitions with the other Tzevet’s in our Machlakah (platoon?). Let’s just say that we completely dominated the opposition. We ran faster, did better push ups and to put it quite frankly: we kicked their asses. I guess the hard work pays off a little bit. Our mefakedit was actually smiling (we’ve been keeping track of how many times we get her to smile – currently at 37 [that’s for 3 weeks 24/5]).

Enough of that week. It wasn’t worth a whole blog post anyways – no wonder why I didn’t write about it. Onto this week which was a whole lot more interesting!

The first day at Mikveh Alon was a lot like any other, run here, run there, do pushups because we messed something up, eat for 10 minutes somewhere in between. The day after that we left for the “shetach” (outdoors). After checking on my cellphone (thanks google maps!), I found out that we were right next to the Golani Brigade‘s base. It looked like we were in the middle of no where. And we really were. We set up “oileem” (tents) and put all our stuff inside them. We learned a lot about our guns again and finally had time to eat. Our tzevet got handed a small, sealed cardboard box and a loaf of bread. Hmmm, what could be inside this box?!?!

The campsite

Inside that box is what we’d be eating for three meals a day for two and a half days straight. Three cans of tuna, a can of beans, a can of corn, a can of pineapple, a few ketchup and mustard packets and a little bar of halava. YUM! Let’s just say I had the most disgusting farts of my life for two and a half days. gross! It wasn’t great food, but it was filling – and I’m sure that’s what it’s supposed to be. Cheap, nutritional and filling: who care’s about taste?!?!

Our stomach’s all full of this disgusting concoction we headed over to the shooting range. The first time we shot all we did was shoot at a target meant to help us zero (calibrate) our guns. Mine was a bit down and to the left (that’s what she said) and so some guy helped me to reset it even though I already knew how… pretty self explanatory for someone with an above 5th grade education.

After zeroing my gun, let’s just keep it simple and say I’d make a great hitman. Every time I shot I was within a 3 cm spread from 25 yards, and about 4 cm from 50 yards, and that’s with a plain iron sight – no scopes here. All day long we ran around and waited to shoot again. We shot a lot while in the shetach, usually only 5 rounds at a time, but we got to go around 10 times or so. It was a great introduction to the gun. I think I’ve gotten a little addicted to the smell of gunpowder in the air.

Each bullet that exits the barrel you get a little whiff of gunpowder, and I can say from experience that it definitely stimulates that killer instinct within. A slight burning sensation in your nostrils, it’s like injecting a shot of espresso into your veins. Shot after shot, I re-aimed and fired – only after breathing out all of the air in my lungs to stabilize my body. Bullet after bullet hit the target – even though I couldn’t see the bullet holes (my sight isn’t anywhere near perfect) I knew they all were grouped together.

Sharpshooter?

We shot at night as well learning how to use just the end sight and the handle of the gun to aim instead of aiming through the main sight. It’s much less accurate when shooting like this, but it’s impossible to aim the same way as you do during the day due to the lack of light. Even with shooting like this I still managed to hit the target every time – not a nice grouping, but it would get the job done.

After sleeping in our tent for the night packed in like sardines since we had to squish three of us into our tent (there weren’t enough tents for everyone to have two-to-a-tent) we arose to a wet morning. It had rained a bit, not a crazy amount, but enough to get some people’s stuff wet through the tent. Another day of shooting and eating crappy food. It was fun shooting again, we got to shoot from a crouched position and standing instead of just a prone position. Good stuff. Towards the end of the day everyone was getting worried because of the ominous clouds gathering overhead. It was gonna be a storm… and a big one. As our mefakedit’s were wasting time as usual I was getting impatient and telling her we had to run. Sure enough, on the way back from getting our stuff out of the tents it started DOWN-POURING. It was like standing under a waterfall. I sprinted as fast as I could to cover and other people slowly started showing up soaking wet. I was happy I had sprinted as fast as I could since I wasn’t as wet as a lot of people.

it got a little wet...

I wasn’t very happy with the commanders and I let it be known, they had us stacking our wet stuff together instead of hanging it. They had us lining up in formations instead of separating our dry and wet clothes. The Israeli’s don’t get much rain so I guess I can’t blame them for not knowing how to handle it… Eventually the MM (head of the platoon) came and yelled at us and basically called us little girls. Either way, they knew they had screwed up and took us to the Golani Brigade’s base to sleep there for the night. We all slept in the gymnasium.

Golani Brigade's Gym

The next day everything was absolutely soaked. We took down our tents and for the rest of the day we sat around cleaning and reassembling our guns. I’m sure we were supposed to be doing something else if not for the rain because we’ve already learned how to take apart our guns a couple times. Nevertheless, it was just more practice.

1 1/2 minutes to take apart and reassemble - I'm a beast I know.

Finally we got on a bus to head back to base which everyone fell asleep for the whole hour and a half ride. Upon our return I had the pleasure of experiencing some of the thickest fog I’ve ever seen, it was quite surreal. The base didn’t seem like the same place, it was as if we had entered into a fairy tale landscape. Everything with it’s halo’s of light around it and soft tones created a magical view.

Thursday morning we found out that we would be heading home that afternoon! Great news considering we also would be having off Sunday. A real full weekend off!!! We did the same as normal the rest of the day other than one good speech that our MM gave us. We went over basic protocol’s of dealing with a suspected terrorist/enemy. As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel is the friendliest of armies in the world until you get on their bad side. They really give you the benefit of the doubt. We learned that while dealing with someone while on guard duty, you must follow this protocol:

  1. Tell them to stop in both hebrew and arabic
  2. if they don’t stop you say three times in hebrew and arabic “STOP STOP STOP, OR I WILL SHOOT”
  3. If they still don’t stop, you cock your gun twice without a magazine in place which makes a loud distinctive clicking noise.
  4. if after this they still don’t stop, you fire one round into the air.
  5. after this you shoot them in the leg. seriously,  if you’ve been given that many chances you deserve to be shot.

The only time when it’s valid to shoot them before telling them to stop is if they have a weapon. Gun or Knife and they’re running towards you, you shoot them in the leg. If they’re still aiming a gun at you while they’re down, that’s the only time you’re allowed to shoot-to-kill. Hopefully this will dispel any crazy stories that people have of soldiers just wildly shooting.

On a softer note, I’ve had two great nights of sleep and tonight I’ll be heading into Haifa to hang out with a girl I met a couple weeks ago. Tomorrow (Sunday) I’m going to Tel Aviv to buy some things and get my bank card. I’ll also visit the Hayarkon 48, the hostel I stayed at before the army to see the people I know there.

Till next time – peace out homeslices.

p.s. there won’t be a blog update next weekend since we’re not getting off… two weeks on base ugh. Keep updated through Facebook!

Tonight at 7:30pm I’ll be on a Virgin airlines flight to London. At London Heathrow I’ll spend several hours trying to get as drunk as possible for as cheap as possible considering I have a 5 1/2 hour layover there.

In my inebriated state I hope to gain some more insight into why I’m doing what I’m doing other than for shits and giggles and the fact that I’ve got nothing better to do with my time. I’ll talk to people, try to convince them to buy me drinks as a “send me off” and eventually spark up some friendly political debates, hopefully it will pass the time quickly. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ve always got my handy dandy iPhone games and reading.

From London my El Al flight heads over to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, due for arrival at 9pm on Tuesday. Super stoked for 14 1/2 hours of travel time. Should be AWESOME. At least I’ll be back in the warmth of TLV tomorrow night, it’s still in the 70’s during the day, and high 50’s at night. Not too shabby considering I’m looking out my window at some fluffy snow gently blowing around right now.

Time to start packing up my bags, haven’t started that venture yet – and I’m leaving tonight on a jet plane.